His Invitation—

The advertisement for mentors had been taped to the front of my planner for three weeks. I was a junior at the University of Alabama when I pulled into the group home parking lot. If I am honest, I left twice before ever climbing out of my car. Literally, I parked, sat, and said, “Nah, God, I have a wedding to plan, a job to find, classes to finish,” only to recircle the building.

The third time, I made myself sit still before God for five full minutes.

The director confessed she had an unconventional match for me, one they usually avoided, but they were desperate. I waited, anticipating a precious little girl, one I would easily bond with over sprinkles and ice cream.

Eddie walked through the door instead.

A twelve-year-old young man with autism, he was limited verbally, and it had been years since anyone had visited him.

He had graced fourteen foster homes before he landed in the room where I stood that day.

Everything in me wanted to return to the car and hit reverse again. He didn’t look up as I signed the papers to take him off campus to TCBY for yogurt.

That day was the first of a two-year relationship, one where each week he watched from his window for my Mazda to pull into the parking lot.

I am ashamed to say I don’t know what happened to Eddie after I moved away, but God used our time to unearth something in me that could never be buried again.

Once you have been exposed to the brokenness of this world, your city, your neighbors, it will—it should—forever shape your lens of life. Because when we have tasted the Living Water and feasted on the Bread of Life, our experience should drive us to those in famine. Ultimately, it drove us to the world of foster care. For 13 years, children of various races, needs, backgrounds, and ages, have stepped into our lives, sometimes for a day, a month, a year, three years, or forever.

Foster care, in the context of the child welfare system, is one piece of a complicated puzzle. Kids involved in these situations are the children of those who struggle with addiction, poverty, imprisonment, immigration, unemployment, disabilities, and so on.

They are the children of those who were raised in foster care, even to the third and fourth generations.

There are many moments I want to be uncalled. I would be lying if I told you otherwise.

I still sometimes hear, “I just wish my real mom was here instead of you.” In those moments, I can feel my spirit rage, threaded with pain.

But God.

He doesn’t need us. Yet, He has invited us in to know more of Him through His justice and redemption, allowing us to be part of Isaiah 58:12, to “raise up the foundations of many generations; . . . the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

Before our calling to care for vulnerable children and families in crisis, I was never dependent on Jesus, not desperately dependent.

I would have told you I was, but I didn’t wake up craving His hand on my heart.

I would not trade the grief we carry for the ways we now know Jesus.

I would not trade the pain for the budding understanding I have of biblical love, compassion, and justice.

Truth be told, most days I live undone, in silent pieces. There are crevices of my soul that will never be mended here on earth because of this journey we are on. Our first three sons were seven, five, and three when we began pursuing foster care and adoption, and as I now read their college and scholarship essays, it is evident their hearts and lives bear the scars of our family’s calling, as do ours.

But, would we want the scars of our Savior undone?

Is it our job to raise our covenant children to be good, noble citizens who live productive lives, or are we called to let them see how deeply their Savior loves them, longs to provide for them, yearns to be their everything?

It is a call to give them glimpses that our God is not safe, but He is so very good, a call to live out before them the transcending reality that Jesus is worthy.

Our family is not the answer to the children who have found shelter in our home. We are only the vehicle to point them to their Unfailing Refuge. We were not the saving grace to their families, wrecked by the fallenness of this world; we simply reflect our deep need for the Author of Grace.

In the same manner, the church will never be the rescuer of the child welfare system and those involved. Instead, Christ’s body of believers can walk them to the One who has rescued us from our addictions, imprisonment of sin and shame, our plight as foreigners in this land, disabled by the fall. It is only when we assume this posture that Christ can have His way in us and through us.

It is not because of us. It is because He invites us.

And, in the moments when we feel there are no more words to give, no more tears to cry, nothing else to leave on the altar, He is waiting to carry us.

May we all reach the moment where we fall at His feet to be carried, our only claim being His gracious, loving invitation.

Catie Lumpkin is a woman desperate for her Savior. She serves as Director of Children’s Ministries at Altadena Valley Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. She and her husband, Jamie, have six forever children: Caleb, Benjamin, Daniel, Bentley Hope, Ayla Joy, and Isaac. Over the course of 13 years, the Lumpkins cared for more than 80 children, ages birth through 20, through the Alabama foster care system. God used this journey to imprint Isaiah 58:12 on their lives, calling them to be part of His work in “rebuilding the ancient ruins,” “raising up the foundations of generations,” “repairing the broken breaches,” and “restoring the streets to dwell in” for children and families who are emerging from generations of brokenness.